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At Chicago Newsroom, we like to talk about the week’s local news and about local journalism.

We invite reporters, historians, activists, academicians and newsmakers -and pretty much anyone with an interesting story to tell – sit at the table with us. We think of our show as a conversation about this week’s Chicago.

Chicago Newsroom is produced at CAN TV, and runs on CAN TV 27 at 6:00 PM every Thursday night, with rebroadcasts at 9:00 AM the following Friday, 6 PM the following Saturday and 9:00 AM on Sunday. 

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CN April 13, 2017


“Lenient judges” and weak laws governing “repeat gun offenders” have been two of the reasons most often cited by Mayor Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson for Chicago’s appalling street crime and homicide rate. They’ve called repeatedly for stronger laws. Well, now they may have them, at least in part.

It’s been dubbed the Safe Neighborhoods Reform Act.

Senator Kwame Raoul, who sponsored the bill, was able to get it passed out of the Senate last week, and his bill now awaits deliberation in the House. It appears to have Governor Rauner’s support.

But while most of the publicity about Raoul’s bill has focused on increased penalties for “repeat gun offenders”, Raoul tells us there are other components, too.

Here are transcripts of selected remarks the Senator made on today’s show, along with the related time so you can watch the video, too.

(And, by the way, here’s where you can find a complete transcript of the entire one-hour discussion: CN transcript April 13 2017)

Getting a handle on our street violence involves more than just increasing penalties:    (2:55)  I am one who has consistently said there’s no singular element that’s going to do that job. You have to have different components. You have to have investment in communities, but you also have to have accountability for those who are committing these heinous acts. I argue you can’t wait until they shoot somebody to do something about it, so there are those who say the crime of illegal possession shouldn’t be taken as seriously. Well you’ve got to possess before you shoot. So what this does is it focuses in on repeat gun offenders.

The key is making the second and third-time offenses for gun crimes more stringent:   (7:58) The range for unlawful use of a weapon by a felon is 3 to 14. (years.) You sentence somebody who has just been previously sentenced to unlawful use of a weapon or murder or armed robbery or one of the offenses, and who goes out and gets another gun, you sentence them to 3 years. They have access to good time credit and it can cut that in half and if they participate in a rehabilitative program they could be out in a year and a couple of months.

The bill provides for judicial discretion, because mandatory minimums have been criticized for not allowing judges to deviate, or “depart” from the prescribed sentences:  And that is exactly why we created a mechanism within this bill to allow for departure, and we have a host of if you as a judge with the criteria that we allow for departing from the presumed minimum can’t depart for a case that’s worthy of it, then you don’t have the intellectual capacity to be sitting on that bench, because we have a pretty exhaustive list of rationale that you can use to depart.

Raul pushed back on the idea that all of our gun laws are too lenient. We ask, once you have committed a violent gun crime and the Police Department knows that you are a violent criminal who has shot somebody, is it still true that the laws are too lax, that they are too lenient if there’s a second violent offense? (22:29) I don’t think so. I wouldn’t make that argument. What I would say is, and this is part of the argument that’s been made against the bill that I just passed, is that part of the problem has less to do with the sentencing as it does with any apprehension of being caught, and so the (Chicago Police Department) clearance rates are low. What’s the greatest deterrent to crime is fear of being caught.

(33:50) Part of the clearance rate … and sentencing has a part to do with it, but bad tolerance of bad policing over decades has a lot to do with the bad police community relations. And in order to fight crime you need good police community relations. If people don’t trust the police they don’t cooperate with the police. If people don’t cooperate with the police you don’t solve crimes.

The law in question defines as “Aggravated Unlawful Use of a Weapon” the crime of having a gun on your person when arrested. You don’t have to  have used, or brandished the weapon. Raoul says there’s a difference between the first and second occurrences of this crime and that’s where judges come in:   We’re focused on the person that’s more likely to be the shooter. Now the argument has been made, well these are mere possession cases. They haven’t shot anybody yet. 

(35:05) Yeah, but let’s wait for them to shoot the gun, huh? You know, you’ve got to have the tools to deal with these offenders, and you’ve got to have some level of faith that there will be discretion utilized along the way. There are three levels of discretion again, there’s the Chicago Police Department, there’s the State’s Attorney’s Office, and there’s the judiciary.

 I think it’s important for us as policymakers to provide guidance. That’s our job, and in doing so, in your hypothetical one of the things that you illustrated was somebody that’s distinguishable from somebody who did it for the first time. And the implication of your question was that that person should receive a more severe sentence than somebody who did it for the first time. And that’s precisely the aim of the legislation that we’ve proposed.

(29:14) So one of the things we look at is age, right, maturity. We look at whether or not the person is working and a contributor to society. We give that guideline in the bill. See, many people have criticized the bill as just a mandatory minimum, which it’s not, and said, “Well you’re not considering all these factors.” And if they read the bill they would see those factors very clearly enumerated, but you have to read in order to get there.

29:52) We can walk and chew gum. We can work on comprehensive policy that affects violence and hand in hand hold people accountable. We ought not be a society where people feel compelled to carry just to walk down the street. We’ve got to confront that head-on with investment in community. We’ve got to deal with the untreated trauma that makes people have that feeling, right.

Raul doesn’t agree that most judges are “too lenient”:   (42:48) I think every court room is different first of all, and I haven’t analyzed every judge, and so I don’t join the chorus in saying that judges are being too lenient. I think it’s my job as a policymaker to say, “Hey, we expect a repeat gun offender to be treated differently from a first-time offender. Yet we recognize that you judge are the person hearing all the facts of the case and you need the flexibility to depart downward in certain circumstances. And so distinguish my advocacy from the Mayor’s or Eddie Johnson. I’m not pointing the finger at judges. However, I am doing my job as a policymaker saying that yeah, these people should be distinguished from these people, and I don’t think that there’s a strong argument against that.

Sen. Raoul says it’s appropriate to consider someone caught a second time with an illegal gun as someone very close to committing a violent crime:  (50:50) Yeah, that’s a fundamental principal of sort of judicial evaluation and sentencing whether or not you did it before. That’s a fundamental evaluation of parenting, you know. You did this once. I told you it was wrong and you did it again. A teacher in a classroom, somebody has done something once and you may cut him slack. You do it again they get detention or suspension or something.

Sen. Raoul is concerned about the results of yesterday’s FOP election, in which a large majority of Chicago’s police officers voted for Kevin Graham as their new union leader. It signals tougher contract negotiations, and possibly a greater resistance to police reform efforts:   (38:20) Yeah, it’s a challenging development given that during the midst of negotiating a contract, a contract that has been a bit overly protective and created a circumstance where it’s a little bit more difficult for people to get to the truth of a lot of the incidents, so we’ll see how that develops when the contract is negotiated. One thing that I’ve advocated for is licensing of law enforcement officers. I’m an attorney, I’ve got to be licensed. Medical professionals have to be licensed. Hair dressers and barbers have to be licensed. There’s got to be another layer of accountability beyond just what happens at the local department.

You can also listen to this program on your phone.  Here’s the SoundCloud link.




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CN April 6 2017

Will Rahm Emanuel follow through with his promise to implement significant police reform in Chicago despite the utter lack of interest from the Trump administration?

Would an increase in the level of punishment for getting caught a second time with a loaded, un-registered handgun make serious progress against our plague of street violence?

The Chicago Reporter’s Curtis Black joins us this week to analyze these and other issues. Fixing the CPD, he says, is complicated and difficult. But perhaps most important, it’s going to be really expensive. That’s due, at least in part, to the fact that this mayor and his predecessors have consistently short-changed the police.

“It takes resources and Chicago has been in this fiscal crisis for a long time,” he explains. “And if you look at the report and you remember back to Emanuel’s first budget where he called for $109-million in cuts and shut down police stations, and now you have sergeants supervising 20 or 40 patrol officers, and that’s one of the many problems. You have a tiny training department. You have three mental health counselors for the entire force…So, at the same time that Emanuel has decided to hire 1,000 officers there’s a real question of how you’re going to prioritize the limited resources that we have.”

You can find a directory to Curtis Black’s thoughtful commentaries HERE.

And you can listen to the entire show on your smartphone on SoundCloud.

And you can read a full transcript of this show HERE: CN transcript April 6 2017





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CN March 30 2017



Just look at the veteran reporters, historians and political operatives on the cable news channels. They’re slowly losing their composure. They’ve run out of ways to say “unprecedented” and “astounding”. We’re in a political situation unlike anything in our lifetimes.

Kitty Kurth is a Chicago-based political consultant. “Mostly I’ve just been under the covers. I will fully admit it,” she laughs. ” Putting on something other than yoga pants (was) a big deal for me in the morning.”

But now, after reflection, she says a clear pattern is emerging. It’s a frightening combination of powerful social media tools, an emboldened Russia and an American electorate hungry for some kind of radical change. And it’s not just the U.S. that’s vulnerable.

“And when you look at how all this happened,” she explains, “Breitbart and their friends were trying to influence our election. Not only was it the Russians trying to influence our election, so was Breitbart. In a very similar way, right now, real time, the same thing is going on in all the European elections. In our news this week there’s been a lot of talk about Russian influencing of the European elections. Breitbart at the same time is doing the same thing.”

For Kurth, this new political environment gets personal. A lifelong Democrat, she’s spent much of her career trying to build bipartisan coalitions. She was instrumental in creating the Concord Coalition in 1992, in search of an effective way to reduce budget deficits and promote economic growth. Today, she admits, “bipartisanship is dead.” But not, she insists, forever.

“I think that some of the people in Congress have been there long enough to know that nothing is forever. They are not going to have the majority forever and that they do have to talk to their democratic colleagues in order to really get something done. I think that ironically the Russian investigation in the Senate with Richard Burr and Mark Warner, I think they are working together very collegially and I think people will see in a very visible way how government can work when Republicans and Democrats work together. They don’t have to agree on everything, but they have to talk and they have to work together.

That’s a time Kurth can’t wait for, because she says she’s feeling very distant from her long-time Republican friends. “When I look at what they’re writing I know that’s not what they really feel. You know I’ve had real conversations with them about why they are Republicans and what they respect in their party. And it’s like everybody just has put on these Trump cone heads and they have been brainwashed.”

Kurth doesn’t have a favorite candidate – at least not yet – in the emerging Illinois governor’s race. But as you might expect from a Democratic operative, she’s optimistic about Daniel Biss, Chris Kennedy, Ameya Pawar, J. B. Pritzker and Kurt Summers,

“The good news is I think any one of them would do a better job than Governor Rauner,” she enthuses. “That’s the good news for me.  I think all of them are really smart guys and probably have a lot of really interesting ideas, and I think right now in Illinois not only do we have a financial deficit, but we’ve got a deficit of ideas.”

“Things in Springfield are so bad that I have taken to defending Mike Madigan,” she continues.  “Because, if you look at the face of it, Mike Madigan has been there in Springfield under how many different governors? And there was always a budget. The problem in the equation, the variable in the equation is not Mike Madigan, it’s Bruce Rauner. The reason why we don’t have a budget, to be really clear is Governor Bruce Rauner. And he can try and pin it on the Democrats and try and pin it on Mike Madigan all he wants, but objectively speaking that part of the equation hasn’t changed.”

Kurth was a part of the brief effort last year to draft Joe Biden for president, something he ultimately rejected as he mourned the death of his son. “Well,” she explains, “With all due respect to both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, who I think either of them would have been a great President, I’m a little pissed off, because I was part of the draft Biden (movement). Now I appreciate and respect his reasons for not running. I don’t know if in this political climate that existed anyone could have beaten Trump because of what I believe was a “wave election” and in the end things worked that way. That said, I wanted Vice President Biden to run, and not because I had anything against Sanders or anything against Hillary Clinton, I just like Joe Biden and I like his approach to life and his approach to government.”

Democrat or not, Kurth isn’t willing to let Hillary Clinton’s campaign off the hook for what she considers serious tactical missteps. “Putting on my campaign manager hat I never realized until the last part of the election, because I was focused in my own little bubble that Hillary Clinton’s first strategy hadn’t been to go to the states that she lost to Bernie Sanders, because from a strategist standpoint that’s like rule #1,” she explains. “You don’t go to the places where they already voted for you. Those you don’t worry about. You go to the places where they didn’t vote for you, talk to them first, get them on board and then go back to the places where you won.”

There’s concern that Mayor Emanuel might be easing up on his stated desire to reform operations in the Chicago Police Department.  Despite recommendations outlined in a Department of Justice report and an Accountability Task Force he himself commissioned, most of the recommendations seem to be unanswered months after their release. Kurth believes Emanuel remains distant from the average Chicagoan, and that confidence-building is needed “Rahm needs to go out into the neighborhoods and talk and listen,” she asserts, “and not in a closed way where his people give out all the tickets and say everybody is in the room. He needs to actually talk to people, and I think on the issue of the police, on the issue of you know, many things, there are a lot of people who would have a much higher opinion of him and his ability as Mayor if they met him and talked to him.”

You can think of this TV show as pretty good radio, by listening on SoundCloud.

And you can read a transcript of the entire show HERE: CN transcript March 30 2017

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CN March 23 2017


What does it say about a society when its elected representatives decide that access to an inexpensive, quality university education is no longer a priority?

That’s what’s been happening in Illinois since at least 2000.

According to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, whose Budget Director Bobby Otter is this week’s guest, the inflation-adjusted appropriation for higher education was 41 percent lower in 2015 than it was at the turn of the century.

But even that statistic is only part of the sad story. “Over the cliff” is the way Otter describes what happened to higher ed funding in both 2015 and 2016.

Chicago area universities like Chicago State and Northeastern have been hit especially hard. CSU’s appropriation has fallen 65% since 2015, and Northeastern’s has dropped by 47%. In these two cases, the effect is multiplied because their student populations are predominantly lower-income and minority individuals, whose families don’t have the resources to fund college education.

The bottom line? When the cuts to Monetary Assistance Grants are also figured in, state funding for higher education in Illinois from 2000 to today has been slashed by 78.5%!

These decisions have been made by Democratic and Republican governors and a largely Democratic legislature. They appear to reflect a philosophy that, unlike pensions and public safety, these are costs that can be quietly shifted over time from the public treasury to the family, since parents can  spend their savings or sign up for loans for their children’s college.

Needless to say, for some families this may be possible, but for so many in Illinois  it simply means many young people will be denied the education that could lift them out of poverty.

It’s a sobering view of what our politicians consider Illinois’s highest priorities.

We like to think that our TV show is also pretty good radio. Plug in the earbuds and listen to the show on SoundCloud.

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CN March 16 2017

Does Illinois need tougher laws against “repeat gun offenders?” Most people might say yes, and certainly Mayor Emanuel and Police Supt. Johnson want them.

A couple of questions, however.

First, don’t we already have very tough laws covering violent offenders who use guns to commit crimes?

Wouldn’t the stiffened laws tend to catch people who might be carrying an unregistered gun for what they consider necessary protection in our violent city, but who have no intention to use the weapon illegally, and never have done so?

And perhaps most importantly, when nine in ten people who shoot another human being are never caught by the Chicago Police Department, isn’t discussion about people carrying unregistered firearms a little beside the point?

Stephanie Kollmann is this week’s guest. She testified against certain aspects of HB 1722 recently in Springfield, pointing out that what Illinois really needs is a comprehensive plan to reduce the violence at the source, not simply a plan to incarcerate more people.

Kollmann was a lead author of the recent report Building a Safe Chicago, which argues for a radical re-distribution of State funding. Claiming that Illinois has increased expenditures for incarceration by more than $4 billion annually for the last 30 years, the report asserts:

A large-scale shift in public spending priorities is required. At annual spending of $4.5 billion above 1982 levels, Illinois’ overinvestment in the criminal justice system is an amount of money equivalent to providing:

  •   25,000 new living wage jobs ($2.5 billion),
  •   Quality after-school care for 100,000 children living in poverty ($44million),
  •   43,000 families with affordable housing via Renters Tax Credits ($203million),
  • and 20,000 new social workers, psychologists, conflict mediators, mental health counselors, and drug treatment counselors ($1.3 billion)

You can listen to this show on SoundCloud HERE 



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CN Mar 9 2017

Can the development of television, and radio before it, teach us anything about what the next few years of digital communications will bring us?

In some ways, yes, says Walter J. Podrazik, co-author of Watching TV.

“This inherently is important because of how do you make money in this medium?” he asks. “And the answer is by being a gatekeeper. Now a gatekeeper has a lot of different definitions…In a more general sense it’s the corporation, the business entity, that owns the station, or owns the distribution service. And then, it’s how do you receive it? Who are the gatekeepers for your receiving it? So the gatekeeper one is to get on there. Gatekeeper two is to be the one that gets the signal to the potential audience.”

So in that sense, today’s world isn’t much different from radio’s peak years in the 30’s and 40’s, or television’s in the 60’s and 70’s. There’s a battle on to determine who can own the most content, and who can own the means of distribution.

Of course, with digital communications there’s vastly more content, and an almost infinite number of channels through which to distribute it. But the premium content – the stuff most people want – that content is quickly becoming the property of a few very large companies, just as with the radio and television companies before them. And we’re also starting to see consolidation of both the content-makers and the content distributors.

“So when you’re looking at how the players are lining up now, the moves when Comcast acquired NBC/Universal—so remember, you’ve got now one-stop shopping from a business point of view,” Podrazik explains.”So you’ve got— well, what’s the formula here? What’s going on? Well, who makes money? A lot of people make money in the media business…So you might have a creator of a sci-fi series that’s on the sci-fi network, which is distributed through Comcast, which you then tune in in your home. Well, boy, if you’re Comcast and you own the sci-fi network, and you own the production company, and you own the distribution—you’re covered pretty well…And so that’s why the ownership of the content becomes more and more important, because no one, including the businesses whizzes, know exactly what’s going to be the state of the industry in say, a dozen years. But you’re going to want content to put out there.”

Consolidation of content and distribution may just be the natural law of economics, and something we all have to live with. But so many observers have pointed out that the Internet’s strength is its diversity of topics, interests and views. That’s why the battle over internet neutrality has been so important, and why today it’s even more critical than ever.

“But the cudgel is not necessarily in place for these new generations of entrepreneurs and delivery systems,” asserts Podrazik,  “and that’s why the whole discussion of net neutrality—in fact the whole question of whether the FCC had jurisdiction over the discussion of how the over-the-air—the wireless—would be handled is very important, because in effect, once you remove someone coming up to you with teeth to enforce the regulations, once you remove that, then you’re saying, ‘So please, make sure you’re a good citizen. Do good. Do no harm.’ Maybe you will, maybe you absolutely will. But history has shown that you probably need to be reminded…”

Podrazik, the historian, reminds us that Edward R. Murrow, after the first broadcast satellite was turned on, called up on our TV screens two simultaneous live pictures – one of Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco Bay and the other of the State f Liberty. Nothing like it had ever been seen before. Podrazik says Murrow’s enthusiasm for the technical feat was qualified.

“And to Murrow’s credit, he said, ‘This is very impressive.’ But he later said, ‘Now let’s see what we do with these tools.’ And that is probably the most important thing—lesson to take, from past history, which is, what do you do with the tools? And that’s the wild card factor here. And that’s where the changing of generations in attitude—not necessarily in age, but in attitude – because there could be new generation people who are 70 years old. But the willingness to say, ‘I don’t care how you used to do it. I don’t care how you usually do it. Here’s how I’m going to do it.'”

How those tools get used, and the degree to which the public will get to continually define for itself the shape and citizen-power of today’s digital infrastructure, these are still very much unanswered questions. “So that’s what’s playing out now is, people deciding where they want to put their time and their dollars,” Podrazik says. “And it comes back to content, which means, what will have the content that matters to me?”

And in an ironic positive conclusion, Podrazik says the gates are still at least partly open.

“And you guys haven’t figured out how to turn it off yet!”

We like to think that our TV show is also pretty good radio. Listen to the show in your earbuds on SoundCloud.

And read a full transcript of the show HERE.CN transcript March 9 2017





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CN Feb 24 2015

One Chicago police officer fired sixteen shots into Laquan McDonald. Another created a humiliating “hunting scene” photo, with an arrested man posed to look like prey— with deer antlers attached to his head, and eyes rolled back as if he were dead. A third officer emptied his service revolver into a car with unarmed teens.

Who defends these and other Chicago police officers when it’s time to go to court? The Chicago Reader’s Maya Dukmasova has profiled Dan Herbert, perhaps the busiest police defense lawyer in Chicago, and sh’e our guest on this week’s show.

Herbert tells Dukmasova he’s perplexed by the argument “that policing, as it currently exists, is institutionally or structurally racist.” He believes that African-Americans are disproportionately caught up in the criminal justice system not because of their race “but because they come from neighborhoods with higher rates of poverty and therefore higher crime rates.” Black people have suffered, he says, from harmful policies like the closing of local schools and the tearing down of public housing. Police, he argues, are “unfairly taken to task for bias against African-Americans when the real discrimination is perpetrated by politicians and policy makers at other levels of the state.”

Maya Dukmasova talks with us about her provocative and detailed profile of Dan Herbert which stems from FOIA’s, shadowing him at court and a series of philosophical conversations that extended over a period of several months.

“He’s kind of a jack of all trades when it comes to serving police officers legal issues,’ she explains. “so people come to his firm with divorce cases, with personal injury cases, but the thing that really gets the spotlight on him are these kind of visible egregious misconduct cases in which officers shoot someone, kill someone, abuse someone and he’s the criminal defense attorney.

A few selected quotes from this show:

Herbert on the Police Accountbility Task Force:

Lori Lightfoot was the chair of the Police Board and was also heading up the Police Accountability Task Force last April when the report was released, and one of the things that was out there, one of the conclusions was that there is institutional racism in the Police Department. And Dan himself says that ‘to me that meant that Lori Lightfoot called my dad a racist,’ and this is how a lot of other policers took it.

Dukmasova on one of the defense Herbert will use for Van Dyke:

Herbert claims that the Cook County State’s Attorney did not properly instruct the grand jury in how they are supposed to consider the charges against Van Dyke, because they rushed to try to get the indictment, and basically as, he put it in court, to  sacrifice Jason Van Dyke to the angry mob outside.

Dukmasova on the likelihood that the City, absent a consent decree from the Justice Department, will write its own form of a binding agreement for CPD reform.

I don’t know how much change we could really expect from an agreement in which the people that are supposed to change are supposed to monitor themselves and hold themselves accountable. I don’t think there’s a lot of faith in the City that all of this could be accomplished, a meaningful police reform could be accomplished without meaningful outside supervision. But, with that being said, there’s a great deal of reform-oriented grassroots activism in the City and a lot of people on that scene never had any faith in the federal government’s really helping any kind of serious reform efforts.

Dukmasova on whether more stringent laws regarding the illegal possession of firearms, which the Mayor and Police Superintendent have been advocating for years, would be effective:

No, not while there are this many guns on the streets, because there’s going to be an endless number of people who those guns are going to fall into an endless number of hands, and the people involved in these shootings especially now are very very young kids, are very young people who we don’t even necessarily hear about because they might wind up in the juvenile justice system after involvement in some sort of shooting. So I think that harsher punishment for gun offenses is not…that’s like not going to fix the root cause of this problem. This is a poverty issue first and foremost, and so the conversation has to start with what to do about improving life circumstances in these neighborhoods.

You can read a full transcript of this discussion here: cn-transcript-feb-24-2017

And you can listen to the show with your earbuds on SoundCloud HERE.

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CN March 2 2017

Lead has been in our lives for almost as long as humans have been able to use tools. It’s heavy, so it’s great for “weaponizing”. It’s malleable and moldable, so you can make lots of stuff out of it. One of those things is pipe. Lead underground service pipes have been so durable that in cities around the world these pipes are still in the ground, having carried water for over a century.

But, as we now know, there is no safe level of lead in the human body. So we may never know how much damage lead has done to the brains of generations of people, worming its way in through the air (as a gasoline additive) through the mouth (kids eating eat paint chips) and through our water systems.

“Lead is more diffuse in the environment today,”  explains City Bureau reporter Nissa Rhee, “So we’re not just getting it from gasoline…like in the past. We’re getting it from a lot of different sources, and it’s the cumulative effect that’s really dangerous. And you know, while it’s much better than it was in the 60s, still 80,000 kids under 6 had lead poisoning last year in the United States, so that’s not a small number.”

“Chicago is something of a Ground Zero for lead pipes,” adds City Bureau’s Darryl Holliday. “The estimate was around 80% of lead pipes, or pipes in the City that go from the service line to homes with lead added up to about 400,000 potential lead service pipes. The city is not taking responsibility for those pipes, so that leaves it up to homeowners.

The water service pipes are a major focus of an extensive special issue of South Side Weekly, reported by City Bureau. It’s called Living With Lead. Rhee says that the lead service lines have become a serious concern in Chicago because of the City’s massive effort to replace 900 miles of water mains. When the lead service lines to peoples’ houses are disconnected from the old mains, they’re re-connected to the new one. But that process disturbs the lead in the walls of the pipe, and sends some amount of lead into the home’s water system. So should the little pipe be replaced at the same time as the big one? Not in Chicago, Rhee explains.

“In a lot of places the lead service line that connects the water mains and the person’s house is either partially owned by the City or completely owned by the City. But in Chicago it’s completely the homeowners’ responsibility. So even though we have an opportunity to, while they are digging up the water mains and replacing them, which is a much-needed service, you know they could go in there and replace the connecting pipes too. But they aren’t doing that because that’s not owned by the City.”

Although we’re all probably carrying around a bunch of lead in our bodies, Rhee says the really critical concern is with the youngest children.

“It’s really important,” she says, “especially if you have children, to think about where lead might be in the environment and to get tested. It’s very easy to go to your pediatrician, your primary care doctor, get a blood test, quickly get results back, and you know right away if you’re okay.”

If you’d like access to information about lead and how to get tested, City Bureau can help. just text the word “lead to 312-697-1791.

We asked whether the team’s research touched on the concern that high lead levels, ingested 15-20 years ago, might play a role in the violence being committed by young people who grew up in elevated lead environments. Holliday said that, yes, they considered it.

“We began on an assumption that violence and environmental health could be correlated. I think over time we’ve discarded that. Through the reporting we’ve dug deeper than just making a pure one to one association because there isn’t one, but we do know that lead causes IQ drops. It causes increased aggression. There are real mechanical practical things that happen when you’re exposed to lead.”

But, although there are definite ‘hot spots” in south and west side communities where buildings haven’t been remodeled to eliminate lead paint and other hazards, Rhee revealed something else.

“We talked to one researcher who said they were seeing a lot of lead issues coming up in gentrifying communities where you have people coming into these old bungalows, say, tearing things up without taking the proper precautions and creating a big mess of dust. And that’s a problem not only for the people who live there, but their neighbors when the dust travels.”

So, although our houses and apartments had great lead hazards in the old paint, removing it can be more dangerous if it isn’t done properly.

Finally, the situation in Flint, Michigan. How, if at all, does it relate to our lives in Chicago?

“everyone is concerned about Flint,’ Rhee explains, “but really the levels of lead in children that they were seeing in Flint we’ve been seeing in Chicago for years. So it’s just not getting the same attention, and it’s something that really we thought is deserving of the public’s attention and awareness.”

Read Living With Lead Here

We think our TV show’s pretty good radio, too. Listen on Sound Cloud

And read the full transcript of this show HERE:cn-transcript-feb-23-2015


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CN Feb 16 2016


“We have a crisis of the civil order in Chicago.”

That’s the terse assessment of one of Chicago’s most tenacious and respected journalists and writers. Jamie Kalven has been immersed in Chicago’s most impoverished neighborhoods for decades, but he’s still holding on to some fundamental optimism. “I think what’s hard to hold in focus,” he explains, ” is – on one hand, that’s a huge opportunity. An opportunity to achieve not just tweaks of institutions but real fundamental social change that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. Whether we can rise to the occasion, whether we can sustain the political will, whether we can do it, is an open question. But we have the opportunity. At the same time, and for many of the same reasons arising out of the same circumstances, there are areas of the city that are like failed states. Not a reflection on the people who live there so much as the inability of our government to be effective.”

Kalven, who among many accomplishments founded the Invisible Institute and who is busily nurturing and mentoring young community journalists,  tells us he lives in Kenwood, where the police come when they’re called, and where the police and the residents have a degree of mutual respect.

“If that were the reality in Englewood, in Auburn-Gresham, in Lawndale, that would be transformative,” he asserts. “These are kind of bedrock issues for the city and the society, and they’re fundamentally issues about race.”

“…we know what to do, we know how to do it and we don’t do it,” he continues. “And I think that’s this blood-knot a the center of American life, where we have this ability to know and to not know at the same time. And I spend a lot of time in the neighborhoods where bodies have been falling, and earlier for many years in high-rise public housing before it was demolished. It’s kind of in plain sight. You have areas that have been abandoned by public and private institutions for generations, and then we ask, why the violence?”

Kalven recently authored a sweeping account of two police officers who attempted to blow the whistle on a massive police-run drug ring operating in Stateway Gardens and  Ickes Homes in the 1990’s. Their efforts were not rewarded. Instead, they were ostracized by their fellow officers and they both ended up out of CPD. Meanwhile, many of the implicated higher-ups quietly resigned and collected their pensions.  It’s a lengthy, but breath-taking read, and highly recommended. You can find it HERE.

Jamie Kalven was central to the legal proceedings that resulted in the release of the Laquan McDonald autopsy and later the infamous videos. Without those, the case against Jason Van Dyke would likely never have moved forward, and in fact Van Dyke and McDonald would probably not be names familiar to any of us. His research and pursuit of factual data has been the underpinning of some of Chicago’s most significant journalism in recent years. In the McDonald case, the repercussions from the video release are still being felt, and could result in massive changes in the way Chicago polices itself.

“If those bad actors – for the sake of argument we’ll say substantially less than 5% of the force – if they are allowed to act with impunity, then for whole areas of the City they become the face of civil authority,” he warns. But he’s concerned that the changing of the guard at the Department of Justice could mean a huge lost opportunity for change.”What we’re now hearing really loud and clear I think from Washington is that police accountability measures are impediments to effective law enforcement,” he asserts.

“They are saying that the only effective policing and effective policing of neighborhoods of color, the only effective policing is unconstitutional policing,” he continues. “That’s what the argument is, and that’s a critically  important argument to win. And to demonstrate that police accountability in the various forms it takes is a necessary condition for effective law enforcement, that the reason that there are where areas in the City where the people won’t cooperate with the police and won’t respond in any constructive way is closely related to a history of abuse and inability to get any redress of their grievances when they complain through various channels.”

Kalven draws a line from the public debate over torture and the calls for a more stringent kind of policing. “You know we lost that argument, so there’s a fundamental moral case about torture, but then there’s this other argument about the efficacy of torture, and both arguments are important. The moral revulsion, but then does it work, is it ever justified. And we’ve had a huge ongoing public discourse about that, and we fundamentally lost that argument and now torture is basically seen in our political life as a policy option.”

And how does that relate to urban policing? “It would be tragic at this moment, in this post-Ferguson Black Lives Matter moment if, and I don’t think this is an impossible outcome, if we have our ongoing public discourse about these issues, and where we end up is with the principle that only violating peoples’ rights is effective, and only in black neighborhoods, in only certain neighborhoods. So we need to win that argument, and I think Chicago, partly because of the place it’s now assumed in the national discourse, is a really critical, a sort of center stage for that.”

Jamie Kalven likes to quote a New York  City police official.

“In a democracy there’s nothing as good as a good police officer and there’s nothing as bad as a bad police officer.”

It was an honor to have this important leader at our table this week.

Meanwhile, you can watch the show at the link above, or listen to it on SoundCloud.

And you can  read a full transcript of the show HERE:  cn-transcript-feb-16-2017

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CN Feb 9 2017


Two great pieces of public art were unveiled almost simultaneously in Chicago fifty years ago. pretty much everyone knows about the Picasso in the Daley Center, but fewer know about the enduring Wall of Respect at 43rd and Langley.

Lee Bey hosts this week, and he welcomes Erin Harkey from the Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and Jon Pounds of the Chicago Public Arts Group. They take us for a tour of fifty years of public art and a look ahead to some new exhibits and a few provocative questions, such as: when, if ever, is it appropriate to change or revise a long-established installation?


We like to think that our TV show is also a pretty good radio show. Put in the earbuds and listen to the show on Soundcloud.

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